Thursday, April 30, 2009

Overheard in April

Before the month is out, I wanted to post the one-liner sentences I overheard over the course of the month. As usual, I am interested in learning the rest of these stories.

"That is the most some of these girls have ever said "no" in their lives."

"I do not believe that I am the target audience for country music."

"Is Hitler your's or someone else's?"

"It's edible, but not enjoyable."

"It can't be that deep."

"Thank you, Max, for judging my sneeze."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


There is a touch of magic in the air of a Little League field on a warm night. Boys sit in the dugout wearing their cleats and clean uniforms, their mouths at work on wads of sweet bubble gum. The breeze carries the voices of the players and the laughter and shouts of their little brothers and sisters at play while parents watch the game.
If you play your cards right, you'll catch a glimpse of the joy on your son's face in that moment when his bat connects and he hits the ball into right field. Or you'll see his careful concentration, his body poised as he stands at 3rd base, ready to run home if the batter gets a hit.
A baseball game has a slow rhythm to it, a leisurely pace punctuated by quick moments of sudden action: with the crack of the bat there is a ball in the air, a catch at first base, a runner to tag before he reaches home plate. In that way, it's a lot like your little boy's childhood: fleeting moments of pure magic that seem to pass in an instant.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Real Life Conversations with JT: Clothing Optional Edition

The Backstory: It is a truism of life in the Garden State that men just don't feel compelled to wear a shirt when they are working in their yard. And their comfort with this level of public nudity is nearly always stunning for its lack of good taste. We're talking about a lot of unwarranted public nudity. So it was that on Saturday, with temps over 90 degrees, the shirts came off, as the boy and I noted while we drove through town.

JT: Look, there's another guy with no shirt.

Mama: Oh my.

JT: Oh Mama, you gotta love Jersey.

At least the pizza is good.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Summer Preview

The weekend featured a taste of summer with temps in the 90s on both Saturday and Sunday. JT had two baseball games (and had three hits out of five at bats). My friend E joined me at the game on Saturday evening and the cousins A & T surprised me at Sunday's 1 pm game (and may I note that it takes real friends to watch a Little League game on a 90 degree afternoon). I planted the rest of my garden late Sunday afternoon and JT and I wrapped up our weekend with a back deck card game while we waited for our outdoor supper to finish on the grill.
The boy even persuaded me to light up the fire pit for a few roasted marshmallows; it's a good thing that I keep the ingredients for smores in the pantry.
At supper last night, JT had so many favorite parts of his day (the surprise game visit by Miss A and Miss T; his double; winning Sunday's game; roasting marshmallows) that he couldn't settle on just one favorite part of his day.

I call that a success.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Big Five

I teach a group of 9th graders who have a unique talent for taking class in their own direction. While I may come to class prepared to discuss the Iconoclastic Controversy (or some other historical topic), they have another agenda. They are most successful at this game of distractions when they deliver an interesting question. When that happens, the beauty of the course's curriculum is that we can explore the distraction, having fun and learning at the same time.

So it was a few weeks ago that 9th grader A asked me: who are 5 people who most changed the course of the world? We spent the rest of the class period exploring the question. I reserved the right to have some time to compose my final answer and I sent them off to create their own lists.

I figured there was no reason to answer this question on my own, so I recruited help. I sent the question to college professor Jason (he was once a student capable of asking the most engagingly distracting questions himself). And my college roommate (and fellow political science major) Michelle also agreed to play a round.

Now we were cooking with gas.

Jason refused to be bound by the rules of the question and offered up these compelling lists:

Ancient History:
Saint Peter
Genghis Khan

Medium-term History:
Charles Darwin
Joan of Arc
Henry Dunant
Susan B. Anthony
Rene Descartes

Contemporary History:
Eleanor Roosevelt
Sigmund Freud
Mohandas Gandhi
Mao Tse-tung
The dude with that moustache....umm, Hitler

Environmental History:
John Muir
Increase Lapham
Bob LaFollette
Aldo Leopold
Gaylord Nelson
(Oh, hey, they're all from Wisconsin. You're welcome, rest of America!)

My 9th graders had never heard of any of the environmental figures (and may I defer from Jason's Badger State claims and note that Californians also claim a piece of John Muir for their own). But it was their ignorance of Henry Dunant who got their attention. There is nothing as indignant as a smart 9th grader who discovers something previously unknown to them. They set forth to learn about Dunant, who is credited with founding the International Red Cross and was the first recipient of the Nobel Peace prize, and are now a veritable fountain of Dunant knowledge.

Michelle teaches kindergarten and, as a consequence, she knows how to read and follow instructions. She delivered the following 5:

Leonardo daVinci
Alexander the Great.

And then I composed my list, also opting to also cheat on the assignment. I identified 10 folks grouped into two categories: Philosophers and Leaders:

Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Jefferson
Karl Marx

My guiding principle in selecting leaders was that they must have been considered a force for good (demonstrating a more optimistic tone than my normal realist's default setting):

Alexander the Great
Queen Elizabeth
Franklin Roosevelt
Nelson Mandela

My class immediately noted that only Michelle followed the instructions, for which they awarded her extra credit. We spent an entire day talking about daVinci, whose nomination they whole-heartedly endorsed. About our mutual selection of Aristotle and Alexander the Great, they had suspicions, feeling that we should have selected one or the other. Fittingly, they voted for Alexander, feeling that the student was busily applying his teacher's lessons and was therefore more deserving of the nomination. I deferred, perhaps wanting credit for that semester of grad school when I read Aristotle on a non-stop basis.

From one question, I got a whole lot of thinking mileage. And now it's your turn. Who makes your Big Five list?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

This Week in Supper

On the occasional Friday, I have posted recipes of my own devising (I call that feature Food Friday). I don't have a new recipe for this week but I have been on a tear of good cooking lately, feeling both productive and creative. I think that it's the coming of warm weather that lends itself to my kitchen creativity. Last week's suppers were particularly successful, at least from my point of view (JT may some day write his own blog to complain about what I cook). And so I present: This Week in Supper.

There was Tuesday's pesto tomato grilled sandwich, sautéed spinach with garlic, and cantaloupe. That sandwich is a work in progress and when I have perfected it, I will post the recipe here.
On Wednesday, the pesto was put to work to make pesto pasta and green salad with honey mustard balsamic dressing, feta, pecans, & dried cranberries.
Thursday found the table set with JT's favorite food: guacamole, adobo refried beans, and grilled veggie quesadillas.
I always cook enough to have leftovers for my lunch the next day. I am an extremely ordered cook so at some point this weekend, I will plan suppers for next week. Then I will re-stock the pantry and the process will start all over again.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bounce, Bounce, Bounce

I opened this box of Bounce (120 fresh-smelling sheets!) on January 5th and yesterday, on April 23rd, I washed my 120th load of laundry for the year. So while it's entirely possible that I've not accomplished much this year, it is clear that we've been quite clean while doing it.

Update: In answer to J's concern, though it's true that I have a good memory for obscure (and useless) facts, in this case I wrote down when I opened the box. I wanted to see how long it would last. And now I know.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Real Life Conversations with JT: Wisdom Beyond His Years Edition

The backstory here is a little more complicated than usual: Our household has a long-running interest in pirates, one that pre-dates today's faddish pirate popularity. Over the years, it's become clear to JT that pirates have a dubious claim on moral value, but his fascination continues unabated. And for the past two years, I have steadily exposed him to politics and the news. This has led to a number of very thoughtful conversations as I've tried to explain the world to JT in terms that he can understand. I want him to have his own political and moral compass, and I want him to understand my values.

So it was that in the past few weeks, we followed the Somali pirate story on NPR. We talked about the situation (including the economic and political chaos in Somalia), we looked at maps to see where these places were, and we cheered when the captain of the Maersk Alabama was rescued by the Navy.

The New York city arrival of Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, the sole surviving pirate, was particularly fascinating to JT. We looked at the pictures on-line and listened to the NPR story about Muse's appearance in court. Among other things, that story reported that Muse faces the prospect of life in prison and will have an American attorney appointed for him, since he doesn't have funds to pay for his own defense. NPR also reported that when the judge quizzed Muse about his family, Muse cried.

It was this final revelation that struck JT. Questions followed.

JT: If he goes to jail for the rest of his life, will he ever see his family again?

Mama: Well, he will be in an American jail and his family will be far away in Somalia, so I guess that it would be very hard for him to see his family.

JT: Oh.

And then a pause, while my 9 year old contemplated the world as he knows it.

JT: What he did was wrong, Mama, but he must have been desperate to do it, don't you think?

Looks to me like his moral compass is coming along quite nicely..

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cold Comfort

Lately, I've been feeling a sentiment that I don't often feel about politics: frustration. I'm certainly not alone in this sentiment but as someone who has spent the last 20-plus years of her life studying politics, it's a rare experience.

Brief pause while we all calculate the fact that I am now dinosaur old. Gah.

My frustration has to do with the ways in which politics is no longer about leadership but instead is about winning. Lately, I am disappointed by my leaders and the chattering classes. In a bit of irony not lost on me, I'm teaching about FDR's first 100 days in office just as I am watching President Obama accomplish the same. The parallels are too obvious to ignore.

And yet.

In 1933, there was a sense in Congress that the parties must come together to solve the nation's problems; a sense that our nation would sink or swim as one. I do not have that feeling these days. There are so many examples of our failure to work together.

Republicans are irate that Democrats, the party with the majority in both houses of Congress, would dare to pass a budget by majority vote. That process, called reconciliation, is a process Republicans repeatedly used when they had the majority and George Bush was in the White House. And in a largely majoritarian system, it's perfectly reasonable for the party with the majority to go ahead and govern. But the Republicans want to option to filibuster everything.

President Obama's first judicial nominee is a well-respected moderate, James Hamilton. He was chosen precisely to signal the president's willingness to compromise and to get past endless hand-wringing and political conflict over judicial nominations. And what does that earn the president? A screeching speech by Senator James Inohofe, Republican of Oklahoma, pledging to filibuster this nominee. In 2003, when his party controlled the Senate, Inohofe declared that Senate filibuster of presidential judicial nominees would be unconstitutional. Then, and now, Inohofe is a ridiculous buffoon. Surely there is a level-headed Republican willing to call him on it? I wait in vain.

And don't get me started on the Tea Party protests of last week. My favorite moment from that day of nonsense is Texas Governor Rick Perry's declaration that Texas might just secede from the Union (he claims it is the state's constitutional right, suggesting that Texas needs some help with the teaching of U.S. history). Secede? Are you serious?

Newt Gingrich's condemnation of President Obama, who dared to shake the hand of a foreign leader, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, may defuse my amusement about the Tea Party nonsense. Setting aside the insanity of the current Gingrich renaissance, let's just be realistic about America's relationship with the rest of the world. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan could talk with the Soviet Union while they pointed dozens of lethal nuclear weapons at us, but Obama can't shake hands with Chavez? Because, honestly, at the point that our nation's leader cannot be civil to those with whom we disagree.....well, words fail me.

Enough. We have plenty of problems in this nation and in our world. Happily, we don't lack for ideas and resources to begin to address our problems. But if we can't have thoughtful exchanges of policy options; if we can't agree to work together and move ourselves forward, then we will fail.

And if that happens, we will only have ourselves to blame. I don't know about the rest of you, but to me it will be cold comfort.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Daffodil Tuesday: Success!

From last week's lone flower, I now see a full bouquet when I walk outside each morning. And now that the daffodils have seen fit to bloom, the tulips can't be far behind.

Monday, April 20, 2009


My friend Jaxter's backyard bambo project resulted in a bunch of homeless hostas. Aware of my hosta problem, J offered up her transplants to me. I could not say no (plants for free? DUH). So now I have more hostas than ever before, a grand total of six hosta beds in the front and backyard of my home.
Thanks to JT and my friend sb for the post-supper planting assistance.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Gardening 101: Planting the Early Seeds

You've got a list of plants and you've selected a patch for your garden. You've been working to get that patch ready for planting day. But before you can plant, you'll need to invest in some equipment. To turn the soil, in my last post I recommended a potato fork. You will also need a few more tools to get started. Invest in some gardening gloves. You may think that you'd rather get your hands in the dirt, but the dirt-under-the-fingernails look is not as alluring as it might seem. And gloveless hands have a tendency to get scratched and torn up, not to mention exposed to that vine of poison ivy that you just grabbed. Get some gloves.

All of my garden tools came from auctions. I recommend that you be on the lookout for estate sales with garden tools listed. Craig's List is the modern equivalent. A garden supply store is the next option. In addition to the potato fork, you'll need a rake and a shovel. More equipment is always nice, but it isn't necessary to get started.

Collect some weather data for your planting zone. Until the danger of frost has passed, you don't want to set out any plants. But you can plant some frost-hearty seeds. I have radishes, carrots, beets, and onions out right now. To this list you can add potatoes, leeks, scallions, broccoli, and cauliflower. Other early crops may thrive in your climate ---- read up on line or check with the local nursery. In the end, your personal palate and garden space should dictate how much you plant.

Some folks start seedlings inside while the weather is still cold. I don't do that; I've never had much luck with getting enough light in the basement for that process to succeed. But if you'd like to go that route for next year, I'd recommend reading up on the Organic Gardening test garden blog.

Each December, I buy my seeds on-line from Pinetree Nursery. You can buy seeds at the garden store, but you will pay a lot more (and you won't get better seeds for the money). Pinetree is a small Maine-based business and I see from their website that they are over-loaded this year (yeah for them and home gardening!). Those seed packets are your friends; read the instructions on the packet and follow them. If it says to plant the seeds ¼ an inch deep, that's what you should do. Mark the depth you need to plant with your rake:
Then put the seeds down into the row you marked. Below are some beet seeds:
Mark the rows with sticks or garden markers (or my practical, if inelegant, fork with the seed envelope method).
Eventually, right around the time the seed packets have faded and frayed, the plants will come up and you can remove the markers. Some seedlings should be thinned after they've sprouted....if that's the case, the seed envelope instructions will say as much.

In the early spring, your soil should be nice and moist. If it's not, turn on a sprinkler for 30 minutes about 3 hours before you plant. In my climate, until the temps get over 70 on a regular basis, I can let rain water handle the watering chores. But once temps are regularly above 70 degrees, I'll water the garden for 30 minutes every 3 – 4 days. You should start to learn your own climate and be aware of rainfall. A good rule of thumb: check the soil an inch or two down before you water....if it's damp, wait another day before you turn on the sprinkler. Watch the pressure: young plants prefer a gently spray. In the spring, water in the early morning so that the sun's warmth can dry off the plants during the day (you don't want wet plants sitting in wet, cold soil all night long)

And now you wait. It will take a week or two (or more) before you begin to see sprouts from the early plantings. I sketch out a picture of my garden so that I know what I planted and where I planted it (it's easy to forget and when it's time to weed, I don't want to pull up the wrong things, a risk for me because of my vigorous weeding habits). JT and I walk through the garden every few days so that we can check things out. This weekend, we saw a radish sprout:
About 10 days from now, I'll have some tips for putting later spring seeds and actual plants in the ground. That's flowers, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, and peppers.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Real Life Conversations with JT: Don't Break My Cover Edition

The last two days have featured a glorious spring warmth and sun that has landed JT outside each afternoon. On Friday, I joined him outside, reading on the back deck. He was involved in one of his imaginary games and I was instructed to ignore him. It's a little hard to ignore your 9 year old as he runs through the yard with a collection of sticks, assaulting (or fleeing) his imaginary foes, but I did my best. And then he came behind the big tree, nearly flush with the deck, and stood there silently, less than four feet away from me. After a few minutes of him standing there in silence, I spoke to him.

Mama: Hi there.

JT: I was hiding, you know. Now they will catch me and kill me. It will be your fault.

Obviously, this incident may qualify as my most serious parenting error

Friday, April 17, 2009

Food Friday: Spring Salad

Last Friday, when JT and I celebrated Easter, I made one of my favorite spring foods. It's a salad with fresh broccoli and cauliflower that I've been making for years. I call it Spring Salad. You'll call it yummy.
It's a recipe that can expand or contract to meet your needs. And it's a crowd-pleaser. The basic salad, to serve as a side dish for 4 – 6 people.

2 cups finely chopped cauliflower
2 cups finely chopped broccoli
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 pieces of bacon cooked and crumbled
¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese

- ¼ cup mayonnaise (and it must be mayo, not some substitute)
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- enough vinegar to make for a consistency like thick cream.....I use white with a few splashes of red wine or apple vinegar

To chop up all that cauliflower and broccoli, I use a hand-chopper from the Pampered Chef.
It's incredibly quick to make this salad when it's chopped this way (and your nine year old will happily help with the chopper). And it looks pretty.
In a large bowl, mix the ingredients of the salad. Stir the dressing together in a separate bowl and then stir it into the salad about 30 minutes before you intend to serve.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Gardening 101: Site and Soil Preparation

By now, you've figured out your planting zone and should have a list of the things you'd like to grow. The next step is to find a patch for planting. The size of the patch will be driven by what you intend to plant. In my experience, the patch you plant will grow larger over time and it's okay to start small. The patch must receive direct sun for at least a portion of the day. And it should be in range of your sprinkler in the event that your find yourself with a shortage of rain. Get yourself a rain gauge so that you know how much water is landing on the patch.

As you think about what you want to plant, you can start the business of soil preparation. If your spot has grass, that's got to go. A tiller is the easiest way to make that happen and I recommend that you rent one for a couple of hours. You don't need to buy a tiller (not yet, anyway) but you should go out and get a potato fork. It looks like this:
And it will help you to turn the soil, which you will continue to do after the first tilling. And if you forgo the tiller, you can use the potato fork to turn the soil. It's work, but who doesn't love some sore muscles? Turn the soil in your patch bit by bit. Like this:
Tilling and turning the soil is best accomplished when the soil is wet. In the fall, after the harvest is completed, I'll have some tips for fertilizing the soil over the winter. Just as your garden is a work in progress, so is the patch of soil that you use. It should be nourished and cared for and that's an on-going process.

I use compost and leaves over the winter so that the soil is rich come the spring. If you don't have a composting plan in place, that's okay. Use the soil you have and enrich it in a couple of ways. First, turn it over and mix in some air and get the worms moving. They will help to get air and nitrogen in place. If you have some used coffee grounds, mix those in (and start saving them, by the way). Any old leaves that you have lying around from the fall should be raked on over to the garden. A late spring snow is a poor-man's fertilizer because it is nitrogen-rich. Old-timers call it the onion snow, because it falls after cold-hearty onions have been planted. And you can fudge a bit for your first spring by adding a 10-10-10 fertilizer from the garden shop. Follow the instructions and use it sparingly and just for your first go-round. Organic methods of enriching the soil are better for the earth and better for you. Plus, they are cheaper.

Now get out that list of things you want to plant. With an eye toward the space you've selected, it's time to think about layout. I plant in linear rows with spaces in-between so that I can step into the garden for weeding and harvesting. I am admittedly uncreative in my layout; you'll have to find a plan that works for your needs. You are planting seeds and small plants, but be generous in your space estimates because they will grow (that's the idea, anyway). My garden plot measures 12 x 20. I draw it out in my composition book, so that I have a distinct plan for placement of seeds and plants. It may look a little stark at the outset, but as the plants fill in they will use that space.

Pictured below is my garden as it looks right now.
It's a bit hard to tell, but the first rows are planted with radishes, carrots, and two rows of beets. Onions (that row of green specks) fill in the last row. More than two-thirds of the garden has yet to be planted. I use the seed packs propped in forks to mark my rows (and help me remember what I have planted). The beets are in two rows and you'll see that the first row is marked with stick. The radishes will be an early crop and I've left space for a tomato plant on either end of the rows. Once all the radishes have been harvested, I will plant some marigold flowers for a little natural bug control. But I'm getting ahead of myself. For now, your task is to clear the patch for growing. Never fear: There is a lush green garden shaping up in that soil.

Next up: Planting the early seeds.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Household Happiness: Farmhouse Table

In the years I lived in small-town Nebraska, I would make an occasional foray to a farmhouse and one thing that nearly every one of them had in common was an impressive dining table, big enough to seat a large household, and often quite beautiful. When I bought my first home, a 1930s kit-bungalow (I was just the third owner), it had a beautiful large dining room. I had a tiny table, one perfect for a small apartment kitchen, and it was dwarfed in that spacious dining room. That Christmas, my parent's gift to me was money for a dining room table.

And so it was that I set out on a quest for my own farmhouse table. At an antique store outside of Norfolk, Nebraska, I found the perfect specimen. It was a square, oak table with substantial turned legs and four additional leaves.
Opened to it's full-width, the table can comfortably seat 12 people (pictured here with just two leaves, it can easily seat 6).
Built at the turn of the century, the table had been carefully preserved; the finish was in excellent condition. In 1997, it was a bargain at $400. I can't even begin to estimate it's worth in 2009 dollars. Perhaps that's because to me it is priceless.

This table, set in the center of my warm yellow dining room, is really the center of my home; a part of every day of our lives. It's generally held up well (my friend T tightened the bolts on the legs a few weeks back and that's been most helpful). I've fed dozens of people here. There have been holiday celebrations and countless everyday suppers where JT and I discuss the day's events (lately that would include the injustice of puppy guarding while playing freeze tag) and identify our favorite part of the day.
Each afternoon, homework is completed at this table.
I write on my computer at one corner of the table and grade papers at the other. Packages are wrapped and notes are written at this table. We've cooled and decorated countless holiday cookies on its surface. I regularly pile garden produce and flowers on this table. Easter baskets and birthday presents appear on the table. Every year that he has visited my home, Santa eats his Christmas Eve cookies and enjoys a generous sip of bourbon at the table. The table has seen plenty of laughter and has – literally – helped my baby to become the big nine year boy he is today. For many people, the kitchen is the center of their home and certainly the kitchen is important to mine. But the real center of Sassafras House is my big oak table.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Daffodil Tuesday: Week 5

Frankly, the daffodils and I need to have a talk. I feel a little disappointed by their failure to quickly deliver an impressive floral display. And for their part...well, they are feeling a little frightened because I'm a scary flower stalker. A few flowers have peeked out to enjoy the thin warmth spring has on offer this week, so maybe we can still be friends.
As a bonus, I offer up a picture of some hyacinths on the other side of the yard. I like the stubby durability of these flowers. JT is amused by the way they are peeking out from underneath the juniper.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Gardening 101: Getting a Plan

With spring comes the garden season. Here in central New Jersey, I've begun weekly forays to my local garden and farm shop. And this year I've noticed that a lot more people are getting gardens together. Whether it's the inspiration of the First Family or the price of fresh produce, I don't know. I like to hope that it's a sense of obligation to the land and the people we feed. That and the desire for beauty would be a very good thing for people and the Earth.

I'm happy to see it. And in the name of helping out new gardeners, I'll have some regular posts about gardening as the spring and summer unfold. I'm no expert and regularly have questions myself. To that end, I will point to some other garden sources to explore. My Dad is the best source I know and I call him weekly with questions . A lot of his advice governs my gardening and will appear in my garden posts. Make friends with a locally owned nursery and tap into the knowledge base there. You should check out the Test Gardener's blog from Organic Gardening, the Organic Gardening web site itself (and get a subscription as well, you won't be sorry) and Mike McGrath's NPR show, You Bet Your Garden (listen to the pod casts if it doesn't air in your NPR listening area).

The very first step when planting a garden is to think about what you expect to get for your troubles. Do you want a few tomatoes for eating? Or are there more vegetables that you'd like to grow? Do you want flowers and, if so, do you want cut flowers or flowers in the yard to admire? Or both?

The questions here seem endless, but they must be considered. And you must be guided by what's realistic. Figure out what growing zone you live in (I am in 6b) and do some research: will the things you want to grow flourish in your zone? I long to have a magnolia tree like the ones I admired when I lived in Tennessee, but they don't prosper in this part of the country. Instead I have some rhododendrons and a dogwood tree to remind me of the South. Your zone will help you identify what you can grow and when you can plant.

I plant a garden for fresh food and cut flowers. The plants there are annuals. The rest of my yard is for beauty and admiration while JT and I are in the backyard and, typically, perennials form the foundation for that share of the garden. Balance is critical to your efforts. Undertake too much and there is a risk that your garden will become an unwelcome chore. Too little, and you won't have enough produce for bragging rights at the neighborhood potluck.

I have been planting a garden since 1997 and have a pretty good idea how much I can reasonably handle. This year, I will plant at two times. I recently planted some early seeds for cherry belle radishes, some heirloom carrots, sweet globe-shaped beets, and Spanish onions. These plants can handle a little cold and, in the case of the radishes and the carrots, are sweeter if planted earlier.

Later in the spring, when the danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed a little more, I will plant tomatoes (slicers and Romas for cooking), green peppers, eightball zucchini squash, patty pan squash, a hill or two of cucumbers, basil, rosemary, and oregano. I will grow mint in a separate pot (more on that later). I grow mini pumpkins for JT to admire: Jack-be-Little and Bat Wings. And then there are the flowers. I love zinnias and will plant several varieties (I have seven different types right now....that's probably excessive), some old-fashioned Four O' Clocks, and Cosmos.

Your homework assignment is clear: Figure out your zone. Then make a list of the things you'd like to grow. Later this week in Gardening 101: Site and soil prep.

Update: Missy asked if it was safe to assume that plants at a local garden shop are safe for your growing zone. The answer is yes. A locally-run shop is certainly reliable and Home Depot, Lowes and the like typically offer money-back guarantees on plants they sell. So save your receipts and garden on. Hint: money back guarantees usually won't save you if you failed to water the plant. Or plant using dirt.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Bunny Delivers

Although I continue to pretend that a large bunny brings baskets filled with pajamas and candy to children every spring, JT has known the truth for a while. The Man in Red is still very alive for my son, but the Easter Bunny has been shown up for the fraud that he is.
No matter, as far as the boy is concerned, if a candy-filled basket comes his way each spring, it's all good. This year, Easter Sunday falls on a weekend that doesn't belong to me. So we are celebrating today, a day that we (blissfully) had off from school. We slept-in, so as to be well-rested for the morning's sugar-rush.

I filled the eggs with candy last night and when I got up this morning, I crept outside and hid them. Within the hour, JT was awake and ready for the hunt. And, as it turns out so was our backyard squirrel, a character we know as Pesky the Squirrel. Pesky has been supervising action in my backyard for quite some time. Daily, he taunts the cats from his post in the outdoor world. He regularly feeds from the garden and digs in my flower pots (and earns my ire for the latter....I plant with the assumption that the garden can be shared). Each fall, he eats a few of the bulbs I've planted and I curse him for it. But this morning, Pesky hit the motherlode: candy-filled eggs.

When we headed outside, Pesky was on the back deck in possession of an egg. He moved quickly up the tree with his egg (a fugitive from justice). And as we explored the backyard, it was clear that Pesky had proceeded us. The candy innards of a few eggs had been left in the grass while Pesky retreated with the big plastic eggs (no one ever accused Pesky of being overly-smart).
JT harvested the remainders for his own consumption. Pesky watched the action and plotted his next attack from high up in the tree.
The egg-hunter stopped to admire the growth to be seen in the hosta bed (a boy after my own heart).

The apple tree has yielded its first produce of the year.

And it looks like the freshly plowed rich garden soil has its first harvest.
Once the hunt was over, JT checked out his haul.
And surveyed Pesky's damage.
We agreed that there was still plenty of candy for a 9 year old to enjoy (and perhaps share with his Mama?).
Next up: french toast and bacon breakfast with lots of coffee for Mama. Later in the day I've planned a little Spring feast....but that's a post for the weekend.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Classic Mistake

That's my boy right there, making a classic mistake: Putting all of his eggs in one basket.Tsk, tsk.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Scary Basketball

Monday night's final men's basketball game found JT on the sidelines. When you are a 9 year old, a 9:21 pm tip-off is bad news. JT took it in stride, having mastered the DVR a long time ago. He got to watch the game until the first time out and then was bundled off to his nest. As I turned on his sleepy time music, he told me that he planned to think about happy things as he fell asleep. Happy things in this case are a trip to the local water park with his buddy B. Life as it should be.

I came downstairs to watch the game. It's not nearly as much fun without the boy but I was grateful for one thing: missing all the scary commercials. It's been a persistent grievance of mine since the tournament began. I know that basketball is boy land (what with the ads for cars, deodorant, and beer, what else can it be?), but must boy land also feature endless ads for movies and TV shows featuring crime scenes, missing children, hauntings, and killings?

Call me crazy, but real-life is plenty scary enough without my 9 year old having to see that nonsense.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Daffodil Tuesday: Week 4

Jersey Spring comes in fits and starts in the month of April and the last few days have been a perfect example of that. On Sunday, we had sun and warmth, and the glories of Spring. Both JT and I spent some of the day outside; we took a late afternoon walk wearing short sleeves. Yesterday, we drove to school in a warm rain and then enjoyed a mid-morning thunderstorm. That storm delivered a cold rain for the rest of the day and our drive home. This morning is sunny but breezy and cool; we had frost last night. Temps today will struggle to get over 50 degrees. That leaves the daffodils closed up for yet another few days. Maybe some flowers for next week?

Monday, April 06, 2009

When LIfe Gives You Cake in Crumbles

This past weekend offered very little in terms of relaxation and a whole lot in terms of an endless loop of tasks to be completed. Among those chores was the requirement that I bake a cake to be cut in the shape of Atlantic County, New Jersey.

Now this is the sort of assignment I would normally enjoy. But it says a lot about my weekend that the first go-round turned out like this.

Because what I really wanted to do this weekend is bake TWO cakes.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Real Life Conversations with JT: Donner Party Edition

The backstory: In recent weeks, JT has been involved in a trifecta or physical activity-eating-growing that strains the boundaries of my grocery budget, not to mention the length of his pants (let me just say it now: thank heavens for the coming of shorts season). The result is that life in my home is accompanied by the constant sound of a basketball being bounced in the driveway. Except when that sound is interrupted for the sound of the pantry doors being opened and closed as a hungry boy seeks sustenance. Saturday morning his baseball team participated in the Little League opening day parade. Afterward, we got breakfast at a local diner and then returned home. Mama took a nap (that parade started at 8 am on a cold Saturday folks, cut me some slack); JT went outside to play basketball. Two hours later found me still tucked under the covers of my bed, having this conversation with the boy.

JT: I'm hungry.

Mama: Ok.

JT: Will you make me some lunch?

Mama: You had pancakes and bacon just two hours ago.

JT: I'm hungry. Can I eat your ear?

Mama: All right, I get the point. I'll make you a snack.

JT: Well make it snappy, lady, or I'll have to eat your leg.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Bruin Pride

I am a proud graduate of UCLA and like any good Bruin, I have raised my son on the allure of my alma mater. But we live in New Jersey and LA is rarely on the agenda when we visit California. As a consequence, JT has never made a visit to the UCLA campus. He proudly wears his shirts and roots for the Bruins when we see them on the telly; we've looked on-line at the campus. But it's not the same thing.

But where Mama has failed, Nickolodean has prevailed, hosting this year's Kid's Choice awards on-campus at UCLA in Pauley Pavilion. JT was incredibly excited to share this development with me and, more than anything I could have said, he's now smitten with the university. I can just see his college essay now: "I've wanted to go to UCLA ever since I saw Will Ferrell slide down the Slip and Slime on Janss steps the year I was 9 years old."

No doubt they'll snap up an applicant with that kind of intellectual acuity. We'll be waiting for that acceptance letter.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

April 1st: Hostas

Last month's false sighting of the color green in the hosta bed was such a disappointment that for the first half of March, I restricted myself to a once-a-week look at that part of the garden. That was no easy task when I was home for spring break and doing some yard work, but I handled the pressure. I didn't catch sight of the hosta bulbs pushing through the soil until March 20th. And since that happy day, I must admit that I've been out to check the bulbs nearly every day. From the first few tips of green shooting up many more soon arrived; reminders of just how lush and full this bed will be within the next month.
JT came outside with me to snap these pictures and announced, "I miss the big green plants that were here in the summer. Why did you take them away?"

So I explained that the tiny bulbs peaking out were on their way to becoming the lush plants he knows so well. He was intrigued and twice yesterday I saw him stroll by the bed and lean close to check things out for himself.
This is how the madness starts. Soon enough that kid will grow his very own green thumb.